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23 Sept. 2017

This page was last updated on 30 July 2016.

It took 46 years to build this Temple.


John 2:13 And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

John 2:23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.

John 2:20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and will you raise it up in three days?

John 2:24 But Jesus did not commit himself to them, because he knew all men,

There are two Greek words that are translated as Temple and their meaning differs greatly.
In John 2:20 the word ‘naos’ is used; which means the Temple itself. The most Holy parts of the structure/area.

In John 2:14 the word ‘hieron’ is used; which includes all sort of area’s that belong to the Temple. For example courtyards, storerooms and the naos itself.

While the renovation of the whole complex (hieron) wasn’t completed until 64AD the renovation of the naos took 18 months.

‘But the temple itself (naos) was built by the priests in a year and six months’ (Antiquities 15.421).

Counting from the beginning of construction

‘It was at this time, in the eighteenth year of his reign, after the events mentioned above, that Herod undertook an extraordinary work, the reconstruction of the temple of God at his own expense, enlarging its precincts and raising it to a more imposing height’ (Antiquities 15.380).

The Herod mentioned is Herod the Great, who died shortly after Jesus’ birth.

Herod the Great reign started 37 BC. Link That places the eighteenth year in 20 BC. Josephus used the Jewish spring-spring dating method, so the 18th year was between 1 Nisan, 20 BC and 1 Nisan, 19 BC.

That year is not the year construction started. It was the year Herod decided he wanted to renovate the Temple.

Herod decides to renovate the Temple 1 Nisan, 20 BC and 1 Nisan, 19 BC.

388 And this was the speech which Herod made to them; but still this speech affrighted many of the people, as being unexpected by them; and because it seemed incredible, it did not encourage them, but put a damp upon them, for they were afraid that he would pull down the whole edifice, and not be able to bring his intentions to perfection for its rebuilding; and this danger appeared to them to be very great, and the vastness of the undertaking to be such as could hardly be accomplished. 389 But while they were in this disposition, the king encouraged them, and told them he would not pull down their temple till all things were gotten ready for building it up entirely again. And as he promised them this beforehand, so he did not break his word with them, 390 but got ready a thousand waggons, that were to bring stones for the building, and chose out ten thousand of the most skillful workmen, and bought a thousand sacerdotal garments for as many of the priests, and had some of them taught the arts of stone-cutters, and others of carpenters, and then began to build; but this not till every thing was well prepared for the work.

391 So Herod took away the old foundations, and laid others, and erected the temple upon them, being in length a hundred cubits, and in height twenty additional cubits, which [twenty], upon the sinking of their foundations fell down; and this part it was that we resolved to raise again in the days of Nero. 392 Now the temple was built of stones that were white and strong, and each of their length was twenty-five cubits, their height was eight, and their breadth about twelve;
The Antiquities of the Jews, 15.388–15.390 - click

The Jews were afraid Herod tried to trick them. Let him tear down the Temple and not rebuild it. So to prove his good intentions:

- Herod trained a 1000 priests as masons and carpenters (because only they were allowed in certain parts of the Temple).

- Herod supplied a 1000 priestly garments for them

- Herod also picked 10,000 skilled construction workers.

- Herod transported all building materials in a 1000 wagons to the Temple site so the Jews could see all needed for the Temple was really there before the tearing down started.

- Not mentioned by Josephus but no doubt architects had to draw up plans.

It’s clear those preparations took considerable time. That time should be added to the date mentioned above to know when the Temple renovation actually started. We are told nowhere how long the preparations took. And with that we don’t know when the 46 years started. We don’t even know when Herod decided to renovate. Was it at the start or end of the his 18th year? Or somewhere in between?

Taking this thought to the extreme: Herod could have made de decision a day before his 18th year ended. A week later he told a delegation of priests about his plan. After that it took the priests 2 months to decide they wanted to take the risk.  That would push forward the date to summer 19 BC.

The preparations took an unknown amount of time so we can’t know when the 46 years started. In fact we don’t even know when the preparations itself started.

Josephus continues his lengthy description and concludes the chapter with saying the innermost part of the Temple took 18 months to complete. Then in the next chapter Herod sails to Rome to meet Caesar who moved to Gaul in 16 BC. So Herod's trip must have taken place before that time some claim. I’m not so sure of that. Herod could equally well traveled to Rome during the 18 months. If the chapters must be understood as in strict chronological order then Herod couldn’t have traveled to Rome for at least 8 years after the construction started. That won’t fit in any chronology.

The temple itself was within this; and before that temple was the altar, upon which we offer our sacrifices and burnt-offerings to God. Into none of these three did king Herod enter, for he was forbidden, because he was not a priest. However, he took care of the cloisters and the outer enclosures, and these he built in eight years.

We do not  know:

So all we know for sure:

Counting from finishing the most holy parts

Above I showed a calculation that shows the 46 year count from the moment the renovations started (with the Naos)

John 2:20 Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?"

The alternative way of counting is to count 46 years after the Naos was finished. The reasoning behind that view is that “to build” or “in building” is past tense in Greek. So the verse is understood as “The Naos was finished 46 years ago and you want to destroy it and rebuild it in 3 days?”

When using this view the 46 years shift 18 months forward in time.

The construction started after 1 Tishri 19 BC (Fall 19 BC)

How much preparation time?

I really have no idea but my feeling is that it took quite a while…

My feeling is that the preparations took years.